47 consecutive wins as NZ retain title
In inspiring New Zealand to victory in Edinburgh to snatch the 2006/07 crown from Fiji at the death, Afeleki Pelenise unwittingly set the wheels in motion for what was to become an unprecedented winning spree for New Zealand, which would carry on well into the next season.
Owing to injury the 2007 Sevens Player of Year Pelenise would unfortunately play no part in the 2007/08 IRB Sevens World Series. Even without him, though, Gordon Tietjens' side racked up an incredible 47 consecutive wins - seven tournament titles including London and Scotland at the end of the previous term - to all but rubber-stamp an eighth Series crown in nine attempts.
So dominant were the kiwis for the first half of the season, in fact, that many commentators and pundits believed Tietjens' side capable of going an entire season without losing a single match. South Africa eventually ended the winning streak in the Cup final of the Adelaide Sevens, the sixth event in the Grand Prix-style calendar, by which time NZ's title of overall champions was all but assured.
From the very first event of the year in Dubai it was apparent that New Zealand's brusing physicality at the breakdown and in the loose - personified by no-one better than their outstanding captain DJ Forbes - would set them apart. Forbes formed an unbreakable and unbeatable forward alliance with Edwin Cocker and Steven Yates, which in turn laid the most solid of platforms for the likes of Nigel Hunt, Lote Raikabula and - increasingly - Tomasi Cama to operate at half back. Zar Lawrence, with back-up from new young stars Victor Vito and Israel Dagg, added the fire power out wide and the Dubai crown was theirs for the first time since 2002.
George, South Africa brought similar headlines. This time it was 19-year old Dagg who shone with sevens tries, Fiji beaten in a Cup final for the second time in two weeks to take the winning streak to 28 matches.
Wellington brought with it the added pressure of the home crowd for New Zealand, and a proud title defence by Samoa. In the end it was Vito who, with the scores tied at 17-17, powered over at the death to add to his first half Lomuesque charge and hand the kiwis a first home crown since 2005.
With the pressure off, the San Diego title was won at a canter - albeit in a nervy finish. With skipper Forbes once again in a league of his own, NZ beat the Boks 27-12 in the PETCO Park final to open up a massive 32-point lead at the half way stage in the Series. In seeing off Kenya to reach the final the kiwis also eclipsed their own six-year record of 34 successive victories, which dated back to Karl Te Nana and the class of 2001.
With batteries recharged, Hong Kong presented the ultimate test: 24 teams, extra Series points on offer and a title which had eluded Tietjens for seven years. After three energy-sapping days it was once again South Africa who would face the kiwis in the final and, although they provided a sterner test, Steven Yates was on song in his penultimate tournament for the men in black to score eight tries and ease NZ to victory. Astonishingly, New Zealand had won the first five events of the season, a maximum 110 points on the board.
If the scoreboard had reflected their almost total dominance so far, New Zealand's performances had started to ebb, suffering perhaps under the increasing burden of pressure and expectation. At the start of the season they had attacked as gleefully as they have always defended, but after the Hong Kong watershed cracks inevitably started to appear as the players dared to wonder whether an unbeaten season might be possible.
After two consecutive Cup final losses at the hands of NZ, in San Diego and Hong Kong, South Africa coach Paul Treu eventually got the win his increasingly professional full time Sevens set-up in Stellenbosch deserved. Newcomer Robert Ebersohn proved the difference in the final after forcing his way into Treu's starting seven, and with the timeless Fabian Juries also turning in a match-winning performance New Zealand's incredible 47-match unbeaten run came to an end.
Like San Diego, Adelaide had once again provided a fitting party atmosphere in just its second year as a tournament host, and was rewarded by some fine performances among the lesser lights: Tonga pushed the kiwis all the way in the Cup quarter finals before winning the Plate, Kenya reached a fifth Cup quarter of the season and the Cook Islands beat England to also make the last eight and underline the increasingly competitive nature of rugby in Oceania.
The final two tournaments of the season brought the now familar European climax, in London (Twickenham) and Edinburgh (Murrayfield). With Yates pursuing a new career in Japan, Vito concentrating on fifteens and Solomon King injured, NZ coach Tietjens blooded several younger players in London and came up short as Uale Mai inspired Samoa to peak at the right time to overcome fellow islanders Fiji in the tightest of battles.
Come Murrayfield, though, Forbes and New Zealand were in no mood to surrender their Scottish title. The Series crown was guaranteed but they wanted both trophies, and got them.
Tietjens proved that his knack of unearthing hidden gems is still intact - Nafi Tuitavaki, Kendrick Lynn and David Smith all brought a real cutting edge - but it was the 'old timers' who ground out the victory. Cama, Hunt, Lawrence and King were all there on the shoulder of the season's outstanding player, who fittingly lifted both trophies. Echoing perhaps the commentators' most-said words throughout a memorable ninth season of the Series, "New Zealand captain, number 4, Forbes."